The Crucifixion, pt.1

Recently, a televangelist told his audience of thousands (possibly millions across the country and around the world) that Jesus never told His disciples he was going to die on a cross, i.e. by crucifixion. What a monstrous display of biblical illiteracy! And this from a guy who has his own television broadcast seen world wide!! This particular pastor (Fred Price Jr., son of Apostle Frederick K. C. Price, pastors of the Crenshaw Christian Center) even had the audacity to claim he had researched this and would not say this if he had not researched it. My advise to this ignorant pastor: read your Bible.

For if you read your Bible, even just a cursory reading of the gospel accounts will tell you otherwise. On multiple occasions Jesus has pointed His disciples to even to the mode of death, crucifixion (See Matt 16.21, 24; 20.19; Luke 9.22-23; 24.6-7; cf. Mark 8.31, 34; 9.31; 10.33-34; Luke 18.32-33, et al). Further, even if Jesus was silent about the specifics of His death, God was not silent and prophecied centuries before crucifixion was invented in the mind of man as a torturous mode of death and nearly a millenium before Jesus ever walked the earth that Messiah would die by crucifixion (see Psalm 22.16). Again, to all the televangelists: read your Bible.

No, Jesus has been predicting exactly what will happen to Him in Jerusalem by the Jewish and Roman authorities: He would be crucified. Luke records this dreadful deed in 23.26-43. First, in verses 26-31, we run into several people on the way to the crucifixion site.

The Man

We meet a man named Simon of Cyrene, a town in North Africa. This man is a long way from home, no doubt one of the Passover pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Feast. There is precious little we know about this man and what happened to him once he finished carrying the cross to the site. Mark tells us he was father to two sons, “Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15.21). Most scholars believe that Mark wrote his gospel, aided by the apostle Peter (an eyewitness) and the Holy Spirit, to or for the church in Rome. Hence, Mark includes this specific detail about Simon of Cyrene being the father of Alexander and Rufus as if to say, “If you have any questions, just ask these men who’s dad was there and actually carried the cross.” It is interesting that in Romans 16.13 Paul greets a man in the Roman church named Rufus and his mother. Is this the same Rufus? It is possible, but any attempts to draw a hard line connecting them is purely speculation. Nevertheless, if nothing else, it would seem that Simon’s sons went on to be leaders in the early church. Were they influenced by their father, himself impacted by what he experienced when he carried the cross of a condemned man named Jesus?

Simon was coming in from the country. It seems that Jerusalem, crowded with Jews from all over the Empire, yet again has no room in the inn for anyone, Simon of Cyrene included. Hence, he forced to lodge outside the city in a nearby village and “commutes” as it were to Jerusalem for the Feast. Perhaps on this occasion he was on his way to the Temple or to the Cyrenian synagogue, which Jerusalem had. Cyrene was an important city with a large number of Jewish residents. So when they had to come from Cyrene to Jerusalem for the various feasts, they had a place to gather.

Simon is “seized” by the Romans and “compelled” to carry the cross of Christ. Jesus has been weakened by the last 24 hours and perhaps especially the scourging He has endured has taken its toll. So the soldiers lay hold of Simon had force him to go “the extra mile” as it were. The cross is laid on him and he follows Jesus as Jesus walks. Scholars reading from historians of antiquity say that the condemned often had a white sign hung about their necks which read their charges and what they had been condemned of. Perhaps Jesus has a similar sign and this is what is affixed later to the cross.

The Maidens

Luke is careful to note that this whole episode was not done in secret where no one could see; in fact, when Jesus is before Pilate there are substantial crowds of people (23.4, 13) present. Here again we see there is “a great multitue of the people” who are following along this deadly processional to Golgotha. But Luke, as he has done throughout this gospel account (1.39-52; 2.36-38; 7.11-15, 37-50; 8.1-3; 10.38-42; 11.27; 13.11-16), highlights some women who are walking along with Jesus. These women are crying out, wailing loudly, beating their breasts or smiting themselves as they go. Perhaps He sees the faces of some of the women He has known during His ministry: Mary and Martha, Joanna, Mary Magdalene. Did He see His mother’s face in the crowd? She was present at the cross (John 19.25-27).

Nevertheless, Jesus sees these women and turns to them, a dramatic gesture in the midst of chaos, and imparts some teaching about what is to come. First, He says stop weeping for Him. What? But Jesus is one His way to death. True, but Jesus knows something even worse is yet to come. Stop weeping for Jesus. Second, start weeping for yourselves and your children. When I was little if I cried over something I wanted but did not get, my dad would tell me to “dry it up or I will give you something to cry about!” Jesus does something similar; He tells them exactly what to cry about. Third, He explains why: There are some bad, terrible, horrible things come down Jerusalem’s way. In fact, it will be a blessing to have been barren and not had children when this time comes. People will be calling for mountains and hills to fall and cover them from the terror and horror of what is coming. “They” in v.29-30 seems to be the people who have called for the death of Jesus – the religious leaders and other various people of Jerusalem, the crowds. And all the judgment coming upon them would spill over onto all of Jerusalem. Hence, these “Daughters of Jerusalem” who belong to Jerusalem proper do have something to weep, lament, and beat their breasts over: the coming destruction of Jerusalem, heaven’s exclamation point on the grand scheme of redemption.

Finally, there is this cryptic word from Jesus in v.31: “For if they do these when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” What’s this all about? It seems to be a common proverb used as an explanation of what Jesus has just said. Various interpretations abound. Leon Morris in his commentary on Luke offers several which all seem plausible. Morris writes: “If the innocent Jesus suffered thus, what will the fate of the guilty Jews? If the Romans treat thus One whom they admit to be innocent, what will they do to the guilty? If the Jews treat like this Jesus who had come to bring salvation, what will be their punishment for destroying him? If the Jews behave like this before their wickedness reaches its consummation, what will they be like when it does? If grief is aroursed by the present events, what will it be when the subsequent disaster strikes?” Farrar adds: “If they act thus to me, the Innocent and the Holy, what shall be the fate of these, the guilty and false.” Inasmuch as Jesus addressed these Jewish women and it was the Jewish who so vehemently sought his death, this proverb from Jesus seems targeted for the Jews. The “wood” when he spoke this proverb is “green,” that is hard to burn. But its drying. Even as Jesus marches to Golgotha, the wood is drying. And when it is dry, what will happen? We, looking back into history, know exactly what happen when Jerusalem’s time in AD 70.

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